Fremont County, Iowa

Newspaper Archives

The Fremont County Herald

Sidney, Fremont County, Iowa
April 23, 1903.

"The House Where John Brown Drilled his Men Consumed by Fire."-- Tabor, Iowa, April 11."
A little blaze in a cottage in this city a few days ago is fraught with much historic interest, for the famous "John Brown House" was the victim, a relic of the Underground Railway in the '50s and during the civil war. And what stories the little old shack could tell of the frightened gatherings of fleeing darkey slaves, or the gayer scenes when care was thrown to the winds and the floor cleared for a "reg'lar old-fashioned breakdown". For it was in the house that many a time the fiddle shrieked while the fugitives danced to a merry tune in accordance with the plans of Brown himself, who believed it a good time to thus cheer up the fleeing negroes.

This house is given added interest because its builders are still living, one of them here and the other in or near Glenwood, Iowa. It also sheltered a miniature arsenal, which afterward became famous, and a cannon, which came from Maine with a party of northerners, found lodging there until it was taken to Kansas for real war.

The so-called "John Brown house" was originally constructed to give additional school room for the children of the public school. Away back in the '50s the public school house was located on the site of the present big brick church of the Congregationalists.

This structure was built that was to give more space for school purposes under the direction of Deacon George B. Gaston, a famous pioneer in these parts, and the men who did most of the work on the little edifice, destined to become historic, were S. H. Adams and William Shepardson--the former still living here--the latter, southwest of Glenwood. The building was located on the property owned by Dr. J. F. Sanborn. John Brown was ever bringing parties of blacks through here to aid them in their escape from slavery. This little school house served as a shelter, where they danced and fiddled away a merry hour, accompanied their benefactor to church, and then were hurried on to the next underground station.

Parties were passing through Tabor from the east--one composed of 200 men from Maine. They had arms, ammunition and one cannon, which was carefully guarded. These men found lodging in this building and in other places about the small village, and later went on to assist in the free state cause in Kansas. The cannon was carried thence in a load of corn. Brown drilled his men here from time to time, who were recruited from the east, and passengers going through Tabor on the daily stage coach from Missouri viewed the proceedings in very great rage. John Brown's use of the little school house for the escaping blacks on the one hand and the people passing through from the east on the other hand, and the subsequent history of the civil war stamped the otherwise insignificant building with importance.

"It seems ages ago," said S. H. Adams who built the house, the other day, "that there was much excitement in Tabor. It became quite a common thing to see party of negroes in the vicinity, where we hardly knew what a black man was prior to the Underground. It was indeed a picturesque scene to see those men drilling for a coming conflict under the leadership of John Brown. My, but he was a character! The world has never seen many such men. He was simply saturated with the idea of freeing the slaves, and that his life should be forfeited for that idea was of no consequence to him, provided that he did something toward the emancipation of the slave."

It is interesting in this connection to recall the underground station at Nebraska City, Neb., which was written up in the Sunday World Herald not more than a couple of years ago. Some traces of that historic spot where the slaves were secreted still remain, and it was from that point that many fugitives were taken to Kansas and Missouri, to be piloted across the corner of Nebraska into Iowa and on to Tabor.

Source: submitted by Walter Farwell

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